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Rupert Murdoch’s Remarkable Resilience: From Media Mogul to Marital Maverick at 93

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Rupert Murdoch’s story is one of unparalleled success, profound influence, and deep controversy that has captivated the world for over seven decades. Born in 1931 in Melbourne, Australia, Murdoch’s media legacy was cemented early on, as he inherited a love for journalism and a taste for power from his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, a renowned newspaper proprietor.

The Foundations of an Empire

Cutting his teeth in the family business, Murdoch quickly displayed an innate talent for innovation and an appetite for confrontation. His disruptive approach would go on to reshape the landscape of newspapers, broadcasting, and entertainment, allowing him to wield immense political influence on a global scale.

Conquering the British Tabloid Market

Murdoch’s international expansion began in the 1960s, as he set his sights on the British newspaper industry. In 1969, he acquired the News of the World and The Sun, transforming the latter into a wildly successful tabloid format that prioritized “sex, sport and contests.” The Sun’s aggressive price war with the Mirror Group and its provocative, patriotic, and sometimes controversial editorial stance made it a dominant force in the UK media landscape.

Murdoch’s alliance with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher further cemented his political influence, as The Sun became a staunch supporter of her transformative economic policies and a relentless critic of the Labour Party. The paper’s infamous “IT WAS THE SUN WOT WON IT!” headline after the 1992 general election illustrated Murdoch’s ability to sway public opinion and shape the political discourse.

Reaching for the Sky

While newspapers were the foundation of Murdoch’s empire, he recognized the growing importance of broadcasting. In the 1980s, he set his sights on satellite television, founding Sky on a shoestring budget near Heathrow Airport. Despite a scrappy start, Sky’s acquisition of the rights to air Premier League football in 1992 proved to be a game-changer, transforming the company into Europe’s largest broadcaster and a force to be reckoned with.

Breaking into America

Murdoch’s restless pursuit of expansion led him to the United States in the 1970s, where he followed a familiar pattern of acquiring and revitalizing struggling media outlets. The purchase of the New York Daily Post in 1976 and his subsequent investment in 20th Century Fox in 1994 marked Murdoch’s foray into the American market, setting the stage for his most controversial and influential venture: the launch of Fox News in 1996.

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The Rise and Fall of Fox News

Capitalizing on the revocation of the “Fairness Doctrine,” which had previously required broadcasters to present both sides of a story, Murdoch and his lieutenant, Roger Ailes, created a partisan platform that tacked hard to the right. Fox News quickly became a ratings juggernaut, generating billions in revenue and shaping the political landscape by amplifying the voices of conservative pundits and fueling the rise of figures like Donald Trump.

However, Murdoch’s association with Fox News has also been a source of deep regret and controversy. The channel’s role in enabling Trump’s 2016 campaign and its subsequent coverage of the 2020 election aftermath, which included the amplification of false conspiracies about a “stolen” election, has been widely criticized as a stain on Murdoch’s legacy.

The Reckoning

Murdoch’s greatest successes have also been the source of his greatest scandals. The 2011 revelation that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, sparked public outrage and led to the closure of the iconic tabloid. The subsequent phone hacking scandal, which saw Murdoch’s company pay hundreds of millions in damages, was a humbling experience for the media mogul, who described his appearance before a parliamentary hearing as “the most humble day of my life.”

In the United States, Murdoch faced another reckoning when Fox News was forced to settle a $787.5 million lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems over the channel’s amplification of false claims about the 2020 election. The departure of popular host Tucker Carlson without notice underscored the gravity of the situation and the potential consequences of Fox News’ excesses.

The Empire Cuts Back

As the 2020s dawned and the Trump era reached its nadir, Murdoch’s media empire began to contract. In 2018, he made the momentous decision to sell 21st Century Fox to Disney, concluding that even his vast resources could not compete with the rise of social media and streaming giants. This sale, which netted Murdoch an estimated $4 billion personally and a further $2 billion for each of his adult children, marked a significant shift in the media landscape and the twilight of Murdoch’s reign.

Succession and the Family Dynamic

Murdoch’s personal life and the roles of his six children in the family business have long been the subject of intense scrutiny, drawing comparisons to the HBO drama “Succession.” While his eldest daughter, Prudence, has maintained a low profile, the rivalries and power struggles between his other offspring, particularly Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James, have been the stuff of legend.

The corporate succession battle remains a central concern, with Lachlan’s recent appointment as his father’s replacement as chair of News Corporation and sole executive chair of Fox seen as a potential turning point for the empire. However, the balance of power within the Murdoch Family Trust, which controls the family’s voting rights, could still determine the future direction of the Murdoch media dynasty.

The Fifth Marriage

At the age of 93, Rupert Murdoch has once again made headlines with his personal life, marrying 67-year-old retired molecular biologist Elena Zhukova at his Moraga Vineyards estate in California. This latest union, his fifth, comes just months after he called off a two-week engagement to radio host Ann Lesley Smith, and follows a six-year relationship with model Jerry Hall.

Murdoch’s marital history has been as colorful and controversial as his professional exploits, with each union bringing its own set of challenges and scrutiny. The fact that the media mogul, at the twilight of his career, continues to make bold personal choices underscores his remarkable resilience and unwavering sense of self-determination.

The Legacy of a Titan

As Rupert Murdoch’s reign as a media titan begins to wane, his legacy remains a complex and multifaceted one. To his supporters, he is a champion of popular entertainment, accessible news, and a free and fearless press; to his detractors, he has been a malign influence who has coarsened public discourse and enabled the rise of populism.

Regardless of one’s perspective, there is no denying the profound impact Murdoch has had on the media landscape, the political landscape, and the world at large. His ability to disrupt, innovate, and wield immense power has left an indelible mark, and his story will continue to captivate and inspire for generations to come.

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